CD -Free Software Series
The collective of experimenters involved in the Free Software Series project continues to churn out new and interesting releases. This time, Peruvian Christian Galarreta, a "self-taught transdisciplinarian", composer and performer accustomed to the more contemporary and trendy electronic scene, defines a suitable digital set, amplifying the magnetic fields caused by disordered electric parts, obtained by dissecting normal computers and using appropriate sensors for recording. The responsibility of such an enigmatic and provocative title, "Computer Music Is Dead", is well balanced even in the second execution - which follows the same procedure - and is run under Apodio GNU/Linux: forcibly manipulating the graphical user interfaces of software like Mozilla Firefox, Qjackctl and Pure Data. There's an indirect reference to a form of musical otherness that computer music, is doubly dying: as a medium reduced to mere loose parts, in the theory that "pushed" to its most radical consequences, it is protected from any "aesthetic" and "usability" sophistication.
The Watchfull Ear
Another tiring and stressful day at work, not much fun. Coming home this evening to listen to the CD that I have been playing wasn’t entirely my idea of fun either, given that I didn’t enjoy it all that much, but you know, when good people send me CDs I at least should do them the courtesy of listening a couple of times, which is exactly what I’ve done tonight, even though listening through carefully twice has given me something of a headache.
The disc in question is the fourteenth CDr release on Mattin’s Free Software Series label, by the Peruvian musician Christian Galarreta. This release will doubtlessly be available as a free download from the label’s site as well, though at the time of writing it has not yet appeared there. The disc is named Computer Music is Dead, which would appear to be a tongue in cheek reference to an old Mattin album named Reductionism is Dead. Neither of these statements is particularly true, but then maybe they aren’t meant to be. The music here on this CDr though was certainly not reductionist, and although the list of free software used suggests it was created on a computer, I am informed by Galarreta that the music is made using electromagnetic sensors picking up the sounds of broken computer hardware.
There is a text on the back of the sleeve written in Spanish, and for the second day in succession, there is no English translation! (I’m not complaining here at all by the way, just amused at the coincidence) There are two pieces here, the first of which is a live recording, complete with whooping and applause at the end. The disc begins very very quietly indeed, leading me to turn up the volume and prick up my ears. Soon though a harsh buzzing drone emerges and gradually rises in volume until I found myself reaching for the volume dial again, this time turning it right back down. This sound, which is granted full of detail and oscillates around a bit is not dissimilar to the noise you get if you plug speakers into a computer’s audio input socket, a kind of rasping, ugly white noise. This distortion continues to grow, breaking up a little here and there on the surface to add some interest to the otherwise consistent drone. The actual sound though, the noise we are forced to tune our ears to is essentially ugly, and in my humble opinion, a little unpleasant to listen to. Maybe that is the point however, perhaps it isn’t supposed to be easily digested, maybe it isn’t supposed to sound ‘nice’.
About sevneteen minutes in there is a lull when the grinding buzz lets up and dies away to a whisper, but this doesn’t last long. It soon fires up again, though once it is back to its full brain-frying intensity a new layer of squelches and flickers appears, making the music a little more interesting again, though remaining firmly at the unattractive end of the scale. At the twenty-ish minute mark the drone breaks up into a driving series of electronic pulses firing away like the spark plugs on a racing car. Again things break up and keep changing, with the sound morphing into what sounds like a demented food mixer before fizzing out at the thirty two minute mark when the audience sounds appear. The applause actually bugs me a bit here. It feels as if we were listening to a desk recording, minus audience sounds until the ending, when the clapping was faded in. Why did we need to hear this? To remind us what we were hearing was performed live?
The second track here follows a similar course for the first two or three minutes, electronic droning of the claustrophobic kind, though after a while there is a sudden crash of Hendrixesque feedback and things change up, the drone broken up into a fast, churning stream of distorted noises. While still as ugly as hell this track offers much more in the way of variety and dynamic changes, though I still had to keep the volume right down. I just don’t think I am meant to listen to music like this. When the track just cuts dead after ten minutes or so I can only really describe the feeling I felt as relief…
Certainly, as noise music goes, or at least the small part of the genre that has crossed my path, this was quite thoughtful, considered and composed music. There was definitely no feeling of someone just wrenching dials and hammering wildly at keys, everything felt like it was placed carefully, following a pre-determined idea for the music, even if it may well have been completely improvised. Essentially though, it just isn’t my cup of tea. I find listening to very loud music made from ugly, distorted electronic sounds like this a difficult experience, While I can appreciate the details, I’d rather follow them at lower volume, and while I admire tension in music there is probably nothing in life that can (in my opinion) be enhanced by the addition of adrenalin. Still, its always nice to be challenged, but I think I will go back to the new Chip Shop Music album now, pour myself a nice cup of tea and try and calm down. Richard Pinnell
Christian Galarreta's Computer Music is dead goes even further; the computer is only used as a source of electromagnetic energy captured as noise. Software is not even used until the album's coda, which sees the Peruvian laptopper monitoring the electrical field as he performs various programming tasks unrelated to audio processing. Bizarrely, it's by far the most musically enjoyable of the three releases even as it seems to question the validity of its own existence. Keith Moliné